Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Who are these unholy savages who hunt out their victims by sound alone?

In the 13th century, there existed a legion of evil knights known as the Templars who conducted black magic rituals and drank virgin’s blood in their quest for eternal life. Executed for their crimes, the Templars were left for the crows to peck out their eyes. In 1970s Portugal, a group of people stumble upon an abandoned Templar monastery, reviving the unholy knights in their quest for eternal life.

 

Anchor Bay has become a staple ingredient of any horror fans’ DVD collection. The company has restored and released many long last classics here in the UK, some great, others not so hot. It’s with great pleasure that the company has now released an excellent five-disc collection of a European horror franchise I knew nothing about – that of The Blind Dead. Four films featuring the unholy Templar Knights were made by Amando de Ossorio and the set contains all of them, restored to their former glory and released for the first time. I’m so glad they did because any horror fan can’t call themselves that unless they’ve seen at least one of these classics.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is oozing atmosphere right from the get-go and relies in this throughout its running time to cover over plot and script weaknesses. Maybe it’s the chilling Gregorian chant soundtrack which gets the blood freezing. Or maybe it’s the really eerie monastery in the village in which the film is set. Or maybe it’s the sight of the undead Templars slowly stalking and searching for their victims knowing that they won’t stop. Once they’re after you, there’s no stopping them and they’ll keep coming. Director Amando de Ossorio has managed to create his own brand of screen monsters with their own mythology and it’s a credit to him that the Templar Knights come off as so scary and credible as they do.

It’s not easy making new monsters stick on the screen but the Templars are so unique in their appearance (at least for 1972) that it’s hard not to forget about them. The make-up effects job on them is excellent with their skeletal visages shrouded in old, worn robes. They move slowly because they hunt by sound (as their eyes were pecked out) which makes them even more deadly than one would expect. You may try and keep quiet but as the film shows, there’s no slowing down your heart beats and pulse rate and this is just like a homing beacon to them. Like lingering zombies, they stumble around in search of blood. You certainly wouldn’t want to get anywhere near these monsters. The resurrection sequence with the Templars rising from their graves is superb, with rotting hands sticking out from the ground and moving tombstones to escape their earthly imprisonment. Whenever they ride on their undead horses, Ossorio opts to slow the film right down and make it almost-silent, giving the horses a horrific phantom element with the only sounds coming from the hooves of their feet clopping off the ground.

Unfortunately Ossorio also drags the rest of the film down to this slow pace and it’s like watching paint dry at times. The first half of the film is excruciatingly dull. Some scenes drag on for ages, including Virginia’s exploration of the town. And like many monster films, it really drags when the Templars aren’t on the screen. The acting isn’t hot (the dubbed version is horrid) and the film is really weak on story apart from the Templar mythology. There’s a fair bit of gore on display (although not as much as I was expecting), some flesh and an underlying theme of sadism with rape and a flashback sequence of a sacrifice adding to its nasty tone.

Thankfully, the final third of the film when the Templars rise is excellent. It’s basically one long sustained scene in which they hunt down and kill the visitors before following one survivor to a passing train where they board and attack the passengers (no one is spared in this scene, even the small child!). It’s a suitably dark and nightmarish ending which just tops the film off the way it should – not some happy go-lucky, everyone is safe, we survived ending.

 

Minor quibbles aside, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a visual and atmospheric shocker from Spain which pulls no punches with its ability to strike terror into the audience. The Templar Knights are easily one of the greatest horror icons to come out of cinema since the early days of the Wolfman and Frankenstein. Tombs of the Blind Dead is essential viewing.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

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